For the first time a New American student is named Valedictorian of her graduating class. This happened during the 2017 graduation ceremonies at Word of Life Lutheran School. Aminata Sesay, who arrived in St. Louis with her grandmother as refugees from Liberia, West Africa approximately 10 years ago, was the recipient.
It was not easy, as the challenge of numerous cultural and linguistic differences had to be overcome. But Aminata, with help from her teachers, the encouragement of her grandmother Alimatu, and the support of the membership of Timothy Lutheran Church, overcame them all. During her eight years at Word of Life, Aminata was the recipient of scholarships provided by Christian Friends of New Americans (CFNA).
On graduation night, she not only gave the Valedictorian address, but also received the school’s annual Christian Leadership Award. In excerpts from her speech on graduation, Aminata shared, “We’ve experienced many things, good and bad, during our time here at Word of Life…and we’ve learned many crucial lessons…and the most important lesson he [8th Grade teacher Travis Besel] taught us is to know our identity as a child of God.” She went on to say, “…I’m going to sound like a mom for saying this, but I am really proud of every single one of you for coming this far. I hope you excel further in life.”
Alimatu Sesay, Aminata’s grandmother, shared some of her granddaughter’s extraordinary story in an address to the Timothy congregation. “I want to thank Aminata for her hard work and good behavior. Since she has started attending this school I have not received any negative report from her teachers or from the school on your behavior.” She went on to thank pastors, principals, teachers, drivers, and the church for giving a good education to her granddaughters. “I want you all to know that since I came to the United States of America, Timothy Lutheran Church has been there for me, as the only family I have in this country. They have provided me with all the assistance I needed both material and spiritual, including educating my grandchildren.”
As a Timothy Lutheran staff member, I have observed Aminata in Sunday school, confirmation, Christmas programs, VBS, volunteering, sports, service projects, and youth events. She consistently approaches the challenges of life with faith, hard work, dedication, thoughtfulness, perseverance, gratefulness, friendship and love.
Aminata is a genuine inspiration who encourages us all. She told her 8th grade class and everyone gathered at graduation on May 25, 2017, “In a world like ours we’re taught to do what makes us feel good. But God says otherwise. Romans 12:2 says, ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.’ And sometimes what the world says and what God says can put us at a crossroads.”
By holding on to her identity in the Triune God and following His will to pursue excellence and provide servant leadership, Aminata serves an excellent example for all of us.
By Mark Thompson
Timothy Lutheran Church